Boyd had never been a penitent person. Never impressionable. Never reserved. Never burdened by an arbitrary sense of right and wrong; white and black. He had always lingered between the dichotomies. Even now, as he scrambled to wash the dried blood from his hands, he felt no remorse and no thrill. The snowball between his hands crumbled, rather than melted. He squatted in the street, scrubbing away, until his hands were more numb than clean. Since the running water had stopped four months ago, this was the closest Boyd ever came to a bath. The scruff of his chin was concealed by a scarf tied tight around his neck. He wore two jackets, neither one sufficient on its own. He imagined his skin was quite dry by now, but removing his clothes to find out would be a waste of time and energy. The wind was just starting to pick up when Boyd rose. He was unsteady on his feet, the result of having traded food for companionship. Food and sex; they were the only currencies left. Boyd looked around. It was dark now and the streets were lit only by the colors people chose to wear. A crowd of women were headed straight towards him, not one bothering to side step. The collision was inevitable. In fact, Boyd kind of enjoyed slamming into the petite woman who had been too absorbed in her inconsequential small talk to look up – to see him. No one ever saw him. It was a blessing and a curse.
Gale felt an impact against her chest, and then her back. She swung upwards just in time to see the broad shouldered man shuffle through her crowd of friends and disappear. She rolled her eyes, wondering why she bothered to expect more from people these days. She had smacked hard against the wet ground. She let herself sit there for a moment as the frost snuck its way up her back and buried itself in her spine. The cement had torn right through her jacket, but that was of little consequence since the thin material it had been made of was never meant to hold up against the temperamental elements. Her friends gasped and cackled. Gale assured them she was fine. She didn’t even notice the blood that was now smeared across her back until the man who bought her for the evening demanded his bread back; as if it was the unidentified blood that was the most disgusting aspect of tonight’s scenario. Gale chomped down on the bread and ripped her chipped teeth through its stiffness. The man yelled inarticulately (everyone did, these days) and she threw the rest of the bun at him. She watched with pleasure as it bounced of his chest and landed in the snow. She had always enjoyed the sight of a man bending over, his pride tumbling before him.
Everett snatched up his fallen bun with virtue. He had worked hard for it all day and was disheartened by his own eagerness to give it up for a few minutes of potential amity. He shivered under the darkening sky and tucked the coveted bread into his sweater. The snow would make it soggy and Everett did not kill for soggy bread. He preferred the fruits of his labor to maintain a robustness in his own likeness. The insert in his forearm began buzzing just as he had come upon a shelter: a single dwelling tent. Inside it smelled of rot and old death. There was no body, but he would have spent the night even if there was. A good tent was difficult to come by, and his own house had been dismantled in the last explosion. In that instant, the streets became safer than his useless cowering. The attacks were usually targeted at houses; the price of being comfortable was an exhaustive threat against your life. All of the free states were like that. Everett had seen a few, but the differences between them were not worth mentioning. Tonight, he had his bread and a tent, and that was all a man could ask for out here. He chose to ignore the buzzing in his arm. There were plenty others in need of a job. Tonight, he had seen enough blood.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©